Gyorgy Faludy on the State of Literature

In an article headed "Literature Will Not Survive the Twentieth Century," Hungarian poet Gyorgy Faludy discusses literature today:

I don't know what happened, I can't explain. Literature can't be explained. Nowadays, a poem is published and in a year it is forgotten. Back then, a poem in a periodical like Nyugat or the Pesti Naplo was something to be proud of. Irodalmi Jelen, a periodical published in Arad, still has things worth reading. But even they have trouble filling 16 pages with the raw material they have to work with. Once, new books generated discussion. But there's no criticism. Since I returned home, I've had two serious reviews. Seventy years ago, if people had asked me or somebody else to list a few poets who'd survive the 20th century, I could have listed 10 or 15 names. Now? Name a poet who will definitely be remembered a century hence? You can't, can you?

Faludy also compares the falling numbers of books being read by Americans to the Dark Ages, which I think is taking things a step too far. However, I think he is right to say that there isn't a critical milieu in the way there used to be. Even (or maybe especially) in the "Blogosphere," have there been memorable discussions on novels and poetry? Other than to say "this is a good novel" or "this is a good poem/poet"? The attitude seems to be that nobody reads anyway, so you shouldn't say anything critical or that could be misconstrued as pejorative because we don't want to "piss in the fragile ecosystem of literature" to paraphrase Dave Eggars. But really, we need serious reviews and in-depth discussion and disagreement to have a literature at all; that is to say an environment conducive to good writing is one in which there is a constant, intelligent dialog about writing, and we let that slip away at our own peril.

Best American Short Stories 2007


It has been announced that the guest editor of next years Best American Short Stories will be Stephen King.

Is this good or bad?

On the Subject of n+1

This post at Conversational Reading discusses the new article on n+1's website in which Benjamin Kunkel talks about the state of the novel. The only problem? The article in question is no longer there. Which is especially strange considering that the Conversational Reading post was put up today. Not even the WayBack Machine can find the article so I can read it.

This is, of course, the same thing that happened to the article on the short story we covered two weeks ago. What n+1 is doing, in other words, is putting articles up on the front page of their website and then taking them down. I suppose their thinking is that they're teasing us with a preview so that we'll go out and buy the latest copy of their magazine. This behavior is absurd. Particularly if they're putting articles up then taking them down on the same day. Such buffoonery will only turn people off when they stumble across a link like the one on Conversational Reading.

One of the advantages to putting things on the Internet is that they're in a permanent place where they can be found years later and linked to and be discussed. Unlike physical paper magazines which by their nature are periodically thrown away, a piece of writing can remain online indefinitely with relatively little effort or money. We've learned to expect things to remain in the same place where we found them before. We bookmark them. We link to them. We scribble URLs down on post-it notes and stick them to our monitors. Taking things down right after you put them up only serves to alienate your readers. But then, the editors of N+1 also believe it's within the normal experience of their readers to earn forty dollars an hour as a copy editor, so what do we know?

Dear n+1, please knock it off.

[Edit: Well I'll be the first one to admit when I have egg on my face. Benjamin Kunkel's article on the novel was never put up on the n+1 website, I simply misunderstood Scott's post on Conversational Reading. So, no, n+1 didn't put it up and then take it down on the same day.

This doesn't change the fact that they did put up the article on the short story that we talked about two weeks ago and then took it down, or that they've put up and taken down articles in the past. Which behavior they need to knock off.]

[Edit: I have been informed by an editor of n+1 that Elif Batuman's article on the short story can be found here. There was, however, no link to it anywhere that I could find on the n+1 website. According to the aforementioned editor, "All of [the articles] have obvious, intuitive html addresses. If you can't figure one out, you can email me or Chad [the web editor]." I'm not sure I understand—they move articles off the front page to other URL's, and then if you can't find them you're expected to email the editors about it? Is that all that different than taking the article down completely? I remain confused and frustrated.]

Let's Talk Numbers

There's a dramatic difference in scale between books and other media--especially the big three, television, movies and video games. If a book sells 100,000 copies it is a huge bestseller. If a television show has 100,000 viewers, it is cancelled. That said, The Da Vinci Code has sold over 60 million units worldwide.

Middle Passage

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson is exactly the sort of mixture of technical craft, intelligence and ripping storytelling we're trying to promote here on Wet Asphalt.

Workshop Fiction Wars 2: n+1 and the doomed short story

Is the short story dead? Is n+1 run by snobs living over-the-top, trustafarian life styles? Read on to find out.

Timothy McSweeney Against the World

I run hot and cold on McSweeney's, although they are one of the more interesting indy presses out there.

This morning I read FEEDBACK FROM JAMES JOYCE'S SUBMISSION OF ULYSSES TO HIS CREATIVE-WRITING WORKSHOP on McSweeney's Internet Tendency. It's funny and so today I'm running hot.

The question is, of course, one that any writer who has sat smiling through a writing workshop has asked herself: "Is this workshop really of any value? What would happen to the great works of English literature if they had been subjected to the opinions of these simpletons in my group?"

While I think Teddy Wayne goes a little bit easy on the Workshop Fiction tendency, there's still some biting satire. Highly recommended.

It's the Format: The Problem with Literary Magazines

The only way to save literary magazines is to change them.

Cognitive Dissonance in Literature as Business

I'm no great booster of market capitalism, so don't get me wrong here, this article is not going to be a defense of Milton Friedman Free Market Monetarism™. I'm a fan of social democracy and the intervention of governments in financially supporting all sorts of public goods from health care for all at one end of the importance spectrum, all the way down to experimental arts and letters at the other. Nevertheless for people who live and work in North America market capitalism is what we've got. What that means for producers of cultural artifacts—poems, short stories, paintings, movies, novels, commemorative mugs, chocolate candies modeled after the vaginas of performance artists, etc.—is that if said producer is producing a product and then selling it, those sales of said product are going to be determined by the old fashioned market rules of Supply and Demand.